Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

A Chinese yuppie in Beijing: Phonological variation and the construction of a new professional identity

  • QING ZHANG (a1)

Recent sociolinguistic studies have given increased attention to the situated practice of members of locally based communities. Linguistic variation examined tends to fall on a continuum between a territorially based “standard” variety and a regional or ethnic vernacular. This article emphasizes the need for sociolinguistics, especially variationist sociolinguistics, to look beyond strictly local contexts and to go beyond treating variation as located along a linear dimension of standard and vernacular. Based on quantitative analysis of four phonological variables among Chinese professionals in foreign and state-owned companies in Beijing, this study demonstrates that professionals in foreign businesses employ linguistic resources from both local and global sources to construct a new cosmopolitan variety of Mandarin, whereas their counterparts in state-owned businesses favor the use of local features. The study shows that variation does not just reflect existing social categories and social change, but is a resource for constructing those categories and participates in social change.This article is based on data collected during my dissertation research on Chinese business professionals, conducted in 1997–1998 in Beijing. The research was funded by several organizations at Stanford University: Graduate Research Opportunity Funds from the School of Humanities and Sciences, a Graduate Dissertation Fellowship from the Institute of Research on Women and Gender, and a Dissertation Grant for the Study of Women in Asia from the Center for East Asian Studies. My special thanks to Penelope Eckert and Keith Walters for their valuable suggestions on various versions of this article. I would also like to thank Miyako Inoue for her insightful comments on my analysis of the linguistic markets in the Chinese context. I am grateful for the valuable suggestions and comments from Jane Hill, editor of Language and Society, and two anonymous reviewers. I would also like to thank Jane McGary, the editorial assistant of LIS, for her editorial support. My research and this article would not have been possible without the Chinese professionals who agreed to share their experiences and time with me during my fieldwork. All remaining errors are my own.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Bourdieu, Pierre (1977). The economics of linguistic exchanges. Social Science Information16:64568.

Cameron, Deborah (1999). Styling the worker: Gender and the commodification of language in the globalized service economy. Journal of Sociolinguistics4:32347.

Dubois, Sylvie, & Horvath, Barbara (1999). When the music changes, you change too: Gender and language change in Cajun English. Language Variation and Change11:287314.

Eckert, Penelope (1988). Adolescent social structure and the spread of linguistic change. Language in Society17:183207.

Eckert, Penelope, & McConnell-Ginet, Sally (1992). Think practically and look locally: Language and gender as community-based practice. Annual Review of Anthropology21:46190.

Gal, Susan (1978). Peasant men can't get wives: Language change and sex roles in a bilingual community. Language in Society7:116.

Gold, Thomas B. (1993). Go with your feelings: Hong Kong and Taiwan popular culture in Greater China. China Quarterly136:90725.

Harding, Harry (1993). The concept of “Greater China”: Themes, variations and reservations. China Quarterly136:66086.

Harrell, Stevan (1993). Linguistics and hegemony in China. International Journal of the Sociology of Language103:97114.

Heller, Monica (2003). Globalization, the new economy, and the commodification of language and identity. Journal of Sociolinguistics7:47392.

Hill, Jane (1999). Styling locally, styling globally: What does it mean?Journal of Sociolinguistics3:54256.

Khan, Azizur Rahman; Griffin, Keith; Riskin, Carl; & Zhao, Renwei (1992). Household income and its distribution in China. China Quarterly132:102961.

Labov, William (1963). The social motivation of a sound change. Word19:273309.

Milroy, Lesley, & Milroy, James (1992). Social network and social class: Toward an integrated sociolinguistic model. Language in Society21:126.

Piller, Ingrid (2001). Identity constructions in mulilingual advertising. Language in Society30:15836.

Walder, Andrew (1991). Workers, managers, and the state. China Quarterly127:46792.

Wong, Andrew, & Zhang, Qing (2001). The linguistic construction of the tóngzhì community. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology10:24878.

Woolard, Kathryn A. (1985). Language variation and cultural hegemony. American Enthnologist12:73848.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Language in Society
  • ISSN: 0047-4045
  • EISSN: 1469-8013
  • URL: /core/journals/language-in-society
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 6
Total number of PDF views: 197 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 684 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.